It wasn’t easy. Despite missed fairways and greens most of Friday, Patrick Reed fought his way to an even par 70 in difficult conditions to take a one-shot lead into the weekend at the U.S. Open. Reed, the 2018 Masters champion, holds a one-shot advantage over Bryson DeChambeau who is seeking his first major. World No. 3 Justin Thomas sits two shots back alongside Harris English and Rafa Cabrera-Bello. Five of the top-10 players in the world sit inside the top-12 on the leaderboard and within striking distance of world No. 10 Reed.
The story on Friday, though, was the conditions. After a week of doom and gloom scoring forecasts, Winged Foot gave up 21 under-par scores on Thursday, including a 65 to Thomas. To put that into comparison, just one player broke par after the first round at Winged Foot in 2006 and no player there had ever recorded anything lower than a 66. But Friday was a different story. Firmer, faster conditions along with heavier winds led to just three players breaking par and left just six players in the red going into the weekend.
Reed hit just five of 14 fairways and nine of 18 greens but showed off his ability to scramble and make pars, something he has gained a reputation for on Tour. Reed will play with DeChambeau Saturday afternoon, a pairing that will no doubt garner some attention. Both players are known for their competitiveness alongside some controversial comments and actions in the past.
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy both made the cut but have work to do, seven shots back of Reed at +3. Meanwhile, Tiger Woods went 73 and 78 his first two days to miss the cut alongside other star-studded names like Phil Mickelson, PGA champion Collin Morikawa, defending champion Gary Woodland, Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth, and Sergio Garcia.
Five Questions Heading into the Weekend
1. What changed Friday?
Two things. First, the weather. The winds were non-existent on Thursday, but on Friday, a front came in and somebody turned on the fans. As late morning progressed, a cold 15-20mph wind followed. Those winds dried out the greens which were extremely receptive from the dew and humidity on Thursday. They only gained more speed as the day progressed, making Winged Foot, well, Winged Foot.
Secondly, the pins. The USGA threw the players a bone on Thursday with very accessible pin positions that made scoring much easier, especially matched with the receptive greens. But Friday, they tucked them in tough spots. It was almost as if the USGA told the players “Get it while you can Thursday because come Friday, the carnage begins.”
2. Who’s the Dark Horse to Most Watch?
No doubt it’s Harris English. Just two shots behind Reed, English has been one of the more consistent golfers over the last two months. In his last eight tourneys, he has six top-20s including a runner-up to Dustin Johnson at the Northern Trust a few weeks back. A superb ball striker, English was one of the promising young stars several years back when he first came out on Tour and collected a couple wins in 2013. However, since then he’s disappeared. But they say better late than never.
3. Who is the most dangerous from far back?
Although he’s not that far back, Xander Schauffele who sits at Even Par. I said in my preview when I picked him to win that he is hungry for that first major after coming close many times the last two years. Xander is in a great position going into the weekend just four shots back and has been very quiet and steady his first two days.
Looking further down the board, obviously most are going to point to the top two players in the world, Dustin Johnson at +3 and Jon Rahm at +1, and those two guys could certainly quickly get back in contention. However, I’m keeping my eye on Webb Simpson at +2. He’s been hanging around even par the better part of the first two days and his solid, consistent play could sneak him right back up into contention. He grinds out pars and if he can get to the clubhouse Sunday at Even or +1, that could end up being the winning score.
4. What happened to Tiger?
Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you. I saw it coming when I wrote my preview earlier in the week. He’s just not playing well right now, and if you’re not coming into this week playing well, Winged Foot will eat you alive. Tiger’s week went south late Thursday. He got off to a great start and played the first 15 holes of the tournament in 1-under par with five birdies. But then he bogeyed 16, bogeyed 17, and double-bogeyed 18 to shoot a 3-over 73. It just seemed to take all the air out of him as the plummet continued Friday, including another double on 18 in very similar fashion.
Tiger will defend the ZOZO Championship next month and The Master’s in November. Given his knowledge of Augusta as illustrated by his five green jackets, I don’t think it’s far-fetched to think he can find his old magic. However, he needs to clean up a lot of parts of his game before then, especially hit driving and putting.
5. So who wins?
I’m sticking with my guns and saying Schauffele, but Reed and DeChambeau won’t go into hiding. Xander is just due and I like how he’s navigated his way around the first 36 holes. He’s patient and is taking advantage of the holes he needs to. If he can play the next 36 holes in another Even Par, he should be holding the U.S. Open trophy on Sunday night.